As part of DRW’s women’s resource group, our Chicago office hosted Dr. Helen Sun, Chief Technology Officer at STATS. She was joined by DRW CIO Seth Thomson to discuss her transition to a management role, how programs geared towards engaging women in technology are evolving, and the importance of mentorship.
At STATS, Dr. Helen Sun is responsible for all things product, engineering, and design, including her company’s artificial intelligence (AI) group. STATS, a sports data intelligence company, pioneered the space of sports data and analytics. In short - any sports related questions you might have can be answered by STATS. Currently, Dr. Sun is in a unique role, as her company prepares to transition from data analytics to AI powered software.
After moving to the US 20 years ago from Shanghai, China, Dr. Sun began in the UX and web development fields, eventually transitioning into back-end programming. As she progressed in her field and began to take on more management-focused roles, Dr. Sun realized while her career success as an individual contributor had come naturally, she needed to focus on developing her management skills. To keep up, she focused on something she hadn’t before – not just problem solving, but understanding how to work with her teams, and understanding what made them click.
With a long career in the tech industry, Dr. Sun has seen progress when it comes to programs geared towards engaging women in technology. But, she underlines that the existing programs are still far from enough. She recalls her time at Salesforce, where gender inclusivity was of the utmost importance. Their programming included a 30% rule, where all meetings needed to have at least 30% women present. This gave women in leadership positions, and women who were less senior, more exposure and more opportunity across the organization.
As Dr. Sun points out, the interest in women’s programs exists – but an underlying issue starts at a young age. Even though she naturally exceled at math and science in high school, she points out that it can be easy to be dissuaded as a young woman to enter into STEM fields. With not enough women in C-Suite level positions, it can be difficult to model what you can’t see. Sun counteracts this by calling out the success stories of women in technology, and focusing on modeling her career after the women who are already out there.
Dr. Sun credits much of her success to her mentors, whether it was her high school teacher who pushed her to do more, or her college professor who didn’t let her drop out of her first programming class. But even more important than having mentors, she points out, is paying it back – and helping others, just like mentors have helped her.